Why MCS matters & a response to SEG confusion
13th September 2023
Ian Rippin, CEO of MCS comments:
Over the last few weeks there has been some speculation as to the future role MCS will have in relation to electricity export tariffs. To provide some context, under the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) all licenced energy companies with 150,000 or more customers must provide an export tariff. The point being to place a statutory requirement on energy companies to ensure that consumers as “small-scale generators”, get paid for the renewable electricity they export to the grid.
These export tariffs require an MCS certified installation evidenced with an MCS certificate.
To quote a recent communication, an energy company cannot offer their regulated SEG tariff to anyone who does not have an MCS certified installation.
However, since coming into force on 1 January 2020, the Smart Export Tariff Order (2019) has always allowed energy companies the discretion to offer additional export tariffs that are non-regulated. Energy companies can offer these non-SEG tariffs to any customer.
As MCS is the only way to guarantee access to a regulated SEG export tariff, consumers can be reassured that they are not restricted in their choice of tariff provider, should they wish to move to another energy provider in the future. In addition and above securing an export tariff for surplus electricity, many lenders and insurance companies require MCS for the renewable technologies that are installed at a policyholder’s address.
There is a bigger picture here though relating to quality assurance and the consumer confidence that MCS certification brings.
MCS is the UK’s only standards backed quality assurance scheme under ISO 17065, the international standard for bodies certifying products, processes and services. As such, MCS offers consumers an impartial demonstration of the quality and reliability of approved products and their installation.
Product is one half of MCS that tends to get forgotten. MCS certified contractors can only use MCS certified products that have been tested for safety and performance to the industry’s MCS product standards. Non-MCS installations do not necessitate this link to certified, safe products. By coincidence I am currently in China this week visiting testing facilitates that apply the MCS standard to solar PV products that are destined for the UK market.
We know that for consumers, MCS provides reassurance that their chosen installer (business) must comply with these industry standards. We accept that sometimes, things go wrong, but MCS has powers to compel an installer to put things right or remove their ability to trade as MCS certified.
I know that MCS needs to be more accessible to installers. We have committed to reducing the scheme’s complexity and focus less on paperwork and back-office functions, and more on the quality of installations delivered to customers. We’ll also place obligations to safeguard consumers at the heart of the scheme.
Our recent consultation on proposed changes to MCS attracted a significant response from across the sector. In the coming weeks we will share what MCS will become next year as a result of this feedback.
Since July 2022, the MCS contractor base for the installation of solar PV has risen from 1,491 to 2,768 (an 86% increase). This year we’ve seen the highest average monthly installations in scheme history. At a time when the UK’s solar industry is showing strong growth it’s of the utmost importance that we can give people confidence in home-grown energy.
Ultimately, MCS certification not only guarantees consumers access to the Smart Export Guarantee, but also provides the confidence and peace of mind that their system will be safe and efficient.
I’ve also engaged colleagues from across the sector to invite their views and can share the following:
Solar Energy UK CEO, Chris Hewett said: “Ensuring the increasing demand for residential solar and energy storage is delivered by installers who can work at a high standard of quality is essential for consumer protection, as well as the country’s net-zero ambitions. This is why Solar Energy UK recommends that all installers have up to date MCS certification, which is backed by an enforcement function to ensure these standards are maintained. We urge all companies offering residential solar and batteries to require this certification of any installers they contract.”
David Cowburn, COO of NAPIT and Deputy Chair of the Competent Persons Forum said: “There is a risk that clauses dealing with missing certificates are misinterpreted, and that consumers are expected to understand the regulations and standards required. For example, PV installations are notifiable in their own right under the Building Regulations. A consumer may assume that employing a registered electrical contractor and gaining certification for an electrical installation satisfies the regulations, but if that contractor doesn’t have PV work on their scope, they risk breaching the building regulations or will need to pay for a building control inspection.
“Almost all Competent Person Scheme members able to self-certify PV work under the Building Regulations achieve their registration as a result of being MCS certified and meeting the requirements for competence and accountability required by the scheme.”
NICEIC’s Technical Director, Paul Collins said: “NICEIC supports third party certification as this provides assurance and protection for consumers, and sector specific certification for low carbon technologies demonstrates installers have been assessed to industry standards.”
Luke Osborne, Energy & Emerging Technologies Solutions Advisor at the Electrical Contractor’s Association added: “ECA believes that third party certification, such as MCS, provides additional safeguards for the customer. This ensures that both the installer and the products meet the requirements for installation of low-carbon technologies.”
I pledge that MCS will continue to play its part in supporting this sector, driving up quality and creating opportunities for all.